BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Zarifeh, on behalf of the Wellington Palestine Group, and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2002-009

Members
  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • J H McGregor
  • R Bryant
Dated
Complainant
  • Helen Zarifeh on behalf
Number
2002-009
Programme
One News
Channel/Station
TV One

Complaint
One News news bulletins about Middle East conflict – inaccurate descriptions of geography – Jerusalem, Gaza Strip and West Bank are Occupied Territory – Old City of Jerusalem not "The Contested City" as asserted in caption

Appeal and Judicial Review sought by TVNZ against original findings (see Decision 2001-014) to uphold the complaint that, by reference to TVNZ’s Journalists’ Manual, "the Occupied Territories" is the correct term – no order

Appeal dismissed

Judicial Review
Consent order – matter remitted back to the Authority

Findings on Reconsideration
Standard G14 – majority – caption "The Contested City" sufficient given item’s focus on peace talks and freedom of expression in Bill of Rights – minority – caption inaccurate – of material importance – freedom of expression does not apply to material inaccuracy – overall – no uphold

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] A map of the Old City of Jerusalem was captioned with the words "The Contested City", in an item about the Middle East conflict broadcast on One News on TV One at 6.00pm on 4 October 2000.

[2] Helen Zarifeh, on behalf of the Wellington Palestine Group, complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, that its news bulletins generally failed to describe aspects of Middle East geography accurately. In particular, the Group claimed that the caption in the 4 October bulletin was inaccurate.

[3] TVNZ responded that the caption was "entirely appropriate" in the context. In addition, the legal status of the area was well known, the broadcaster stated.

[4] Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, the Wellington Palestine Group referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[5] Assisted by a briefing from MFAT and largely on the basis that the TVNZ’s Journalists’ Manual said that "the Occupied Territories" was the correct term, the Authority upheld the complaint as a breach of standard G14. No order was imposed.

[6] TVNZ appealed and sought judicial review of the Authority’s decision. The Appeal was dismissed but on judicial review by consent order the matter was remitted to the Authority for reconsideration. The Authority then considered further submissions from the parties.

Following full reconsideration of the complaint, for the reasons below, a majority of the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Decision

[7] The members of the Authority have viewed a tape of the item complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. It determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[8] An item on One News broadcast on TV One at 6.00pm on 4 October 2000 attempted to set in context peace talks about to begin in Paris as violence continued in the Middle East between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The item explained the religious significance of the Old City in East Jerusalem, which contains monuments sacred to both the Muslim and Jewish faiths. The item also explained that the latest wave of violence had been triggered by a high-profile and "deliberately provocative" visit to the Old City by Mr Ariel Sharon, a right-wing Israeli opponent of the peace process. The item included a map of the Old City of Jerusalem, shown with a caption reading "The Contested City."

The Complaint

[9] Helen Zarifeh, on behalf of the Wellington Palestine Group, complained to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, about its news coverage of the recent conflict in the Middle East, and in particular about the bulletin on One News on 4 October 2000. The complainant wrote:

The issue is the same as that which we have raised with you many times in the past – the accurate description of geography.

[10] In spite of having followed TVNZ’s broadcasts about the Middle East as closely as possible, the Group was still waiting "for a single mention – even just one – of the fact that Jerusalem, Gaza Strip and West Bank are Occupied Territory," the complainant said.

[11] The Group complained in particular about footage on the 4 October bulletin showing a map of the Old City of Jerusalem which had been captioned "The Contested City." The Group said it was the second time it had seen this "explanation of the issue" on TVNZ’s news programmes and that neither item had mentioned that in law the land did not belong to Israel.

[12] In the Group’s view, both TVNZ and its news suppliers had:

… gone to great lengths to avoid drawing any attention to the central fact of the whole issue – that the Palestinians are resisting illegal occupation.

[13] The Group claimed that the caption was inaccurate and misleading. It wrote:

[The caption] equates claims with rights. Both in isolation from other coverage from TVNZ, let alone in context of other coverage, the impression created is negative for the Palestinians.

[14] The complainant referred to a letter it had previously received from TVNZ in which the broadcaster had pointed out that "it is not in all cases inconsistent to describe as ‘disputed’ land which in the eyes of the world is occupied." The Group wrote:

Maybe so, but it is outrageous to never describe occupied land as occupied, but always describe it, implicitly or explicitly, as disputed.

The Standard

[15] In its response to the complainant, TVNZ advised that it had considered the complaint under standard G14 of the Television Code of Broadcasting Practice.

That standard reads:

G14 News must be presented accurately, objectively and impartially.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

 [16] TVNZ responded that, in the context, the caption was "entirely appropriate", adding:

It was, after all, explaining why the Old City is so important to both the Muslim and Jewish faiths. In these circumstances the fact that United Nations resolutions declare this occupied territory, and the fact that the city is contested are complementary rather than contradictory statements.

[17] In response to the Group’s objection to the absence of any reference to the area being occupied territory, the broadcaster wrote that in its view the status of the area was well-known and that "Mr Sharon’s actions would make no sense unless viewers recognised that he was deliberately flouting that internationally-recognised status."

[18] TVNZ denied that the caption was inaccurate and said it did not believe that the item lacked objectivity or impartiality as a result of the caption being used. Accordingly, it declined to uphold the complaint.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[19] Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, the Group referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[20] The complainant stated that the issue "continue[d] to be the inability of TVNZ to accurately and with balance describe the legal and actual situation in the Middle East."

[21] According to the complainant, TVNZ persistently refused in its news bulletins to describe the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and Golan Heights as occupied. Ms Zarifeh stated:

During the extensive coverage over many nights of news during October, I was aware of the use of the word "occupied" only twice, once when quoting a United Nations’ resolution, and also the word was spoken by a reporter in the field. Otherwise, over a great many minutes of coverage, the word was noticeably absent.

[22] The complainant said, as the Wellington Palestine Group had explained many times over the years, that the image of the Palestinians suffered considerably when their resistance to Israeli forces was depicted as an uprising against proper authority, rather than resistance against occupation.

[23] The Group said it had no difficulty with TVNZ’s position that it was not obliged to detail the legal status of Jerusalem or other Occupied Territory every time it was mentioned. However, the Group objected to the legal status being mentioned so "extraordinarily rarely" when an understanding of the legal status was "absolutely critical" in order for viewers to comprehend and understand what was happening.

[24] According to the Group, TVNZ saw the dispute over Jerusalem from a United States’ perspective, which was primarily one of religion in which both Jewish and Moslem claims were strong. While a proper news organisation would give that viewpoint, it would not do so to the "almost total exclusion" of an alternative legal view, the complainant wrote.

[25] The Group submitted that TVNZ’s argument that the terms "occupation" and "contested" were complementary was unconvincing. The Group said:

Only if one were keen on not offending the Israelis would one so often avoid pointing the finger of blame where it so squarely belongs. If someone were found by a court to have stolen some property, TVNZ would not describe the stolen goods as "disputed" or "contested". TVNZ never called Kuwait "disputed" during the Gulf War, though clearly it was by Iraq, with arguably more legitimacy than the Israeli claims to the land it took in 1967.

[26] Finally, the complainant rejected as unconvincing TVNZ’s claim that Mr Sharon’s visit would have made no sense to viewers unless they recognised he was deliberately flouting the city’s international status.

[27] According to the complainant, any viewer awareness of the status of the Occupied Territory was in spite of, not because of, TVNZ’s reporting.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[28] In TVNZ’s response to the Authority, the broadcaster advised it had little to add other than to submit that news consumers "understood by now the geo-political position in the Middle East." According to TVNZ:

In a dispute as long-running as this one, it is unnecessary to spell out each time the terms of the United Nations Resolutions concerning the occupied status of certain territories. We do not believe that our news audiences are ignorant.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[29] In its final comment, the Group stated that it was not asking TVNZ to spell out these terms on each occasion. Further, the Group claimed that it was not asking for "true editorial balance". It added:

What we do expect however, is that the viewer can see and understand that Israel is illegally occupying other people’s land.

[30] That could be done, it averred, by the use of maps or by describing certain territories as occupied, and the Group expressed surprise that TVNZ insisted on using such terms as "disputed" and "contested". The Group did not object to the Authority’s decision to consult with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, although it added:

We do however wonder why this is necessary. The issue it seems to us is not whether the lands are occupied since TVNZ admits that they are. The issue is that TVNZ avoids broadcasting this description for some reason that it will not admit to.

[31] On 8 March 2001, the Authority made the following decision – No: 2001-014:

           The Authority's Determination

The Authority is required to determine whether TVNZ breached standard G14, which requires news to be presented accurately, objectively and impartially, when it labelled the Old City of Jerusalem with a caption reading "The Contested City". In coming to its decision, the Authority endeavours to take a common sense approach.

The Wellington Palestine Group has complained to the Authority on a number of occasions over the past decade, usually about some aspect of a news item dealing with conflict in the Middle East. The Authority is aware of the political sensitivities in the region. Accordingly, it sought a briefing from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade on the issues. The Deputy Director of the Middle East and Africa Division, Valerie Meyer, explained to the Authority the nature of the language used in official papers and the reasons for such language. In her opinion, the phrase "occupied territories" would always be used to describe the land in dispute, including the Old City of Jerusalem. The terms "disputed" or "contested" would not be used in official papers, she said. This advice has helped inform the Authority’s decision on this complaint.

The Authority turns to consider TVNZ’s arguments that it is not inaccurate to describe the Old City of Jerusalem as "The Contested City", and that news audiences are not ignorant of the status of certain territories. While the Authority acknowledges these arguments, it questions TVNZ’s level of confidence in the degree of public understanding of the geo-political position in the Middle East. In any case, the Authority does not intend to become mired in issues of semantics.

Accordingly, in the course of its deliberations the Authority decided to request from TVNZ an explanation of how the issue is dealt with in its Journalists’ Manual. TVNZ supplied the Authority with an extract from the manual, which states that "special care must be taken with reports from or about the Middle East" and that "geographical descriptions or labelling must be precise." Pertinently, the manual requires journalists to refer to East Jerusalem (that is, the Old City of Jerusalem), along with other named areas, as "the Occupied Territories". The manual acknowledges that Jerusalem’s status is "in dispute".

In supplying the Authority with the extract from the manual, TVNZ pointed out that some foreign sources had a slightly different policy, and that the item complained about was sourced from the BBC. TVNZ added that it preferred not to change material supplied to it unless that material amounted to a "blatant breach" of its policy. It said the BBC’s style was generally compatible with its own.

The Authority has considered the arguments put forward by the complainant and the broadcaster. Assisted by Ms Meyer’s briefing, and in light of the clear directions in TVNZ’s Journalists’ Manual, the Authority concludes that when it broadcast a caption describing the Old City of Jerusalem as "The Contested City", TVNZ breached the broadcasting standard which requires news to be presented accurately.

[32] The decision reproduced above upheld the complaint that the broadcast of the item breached standard G14. In the circumstances of the particular complaint, the Authority did not consider that an order was justified.

The Appeal and Application for Judicial Review

[33] TVNZ filed an appeal against Decision No: 2001-014 on the basis that the description of the Old City as "The Contested City" was neither inaccurate nor impartial, and did not lack objectivity. It also sought judicial review on the basis that the Authority had not given TVNZ an opportunity to respond to the matters raised in the briefing from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT).

[34] Following discussions between the parties, a consent memorandum was filed in the High Court, and, on 27 August 2001, Goddard J made orders by consent to dismiss the appeal and to refer the matter back to the Authority for further consideration and determination. Before its reconsideration, the Authority sought submissions from TVNZ and the Wellington Palestine Group.

TVNZ’s Submission

[35] In a detailed submission, TVNZ through its solicitors, examined closely the news item. TVNZ pointed out that the item dealt with the violence which threatened the peace talks between Israeli and Palestine leaders. TVNZ emphasised that the item stated the violence arose because parts of the Old City were sacred to both Muslims and Jews. It was in this context, TVNZ wrote, that a map of the Old City of Jerusalem was displayed with a caption reading "The Contested City". Pointing to other parts of the item, TVNZ wrote:

An item such as this can only be viewed in the context of the wider dispute. The item did not attempt to outline the official status of the Old City, nor did it purport to provide a comprehensive history of control of the Old City. In the context of the item it was not necessary to do so. The item concerned the spiritual significance of the Old City to both the Muslims and the Jews and hence the basis for their competing claims to it. These competing claims have existed for centuries, regardless of control of the Old City or its official status. The item did not purport to evaluate the relative strength or weakness of the Palestinian and Israeli claims to the Old City, nor was it appropriate to do so (as the complainant suggests). It is simply not possible to cover all aspects of a dispute in one short news item.

[36] Given the focus of the item, TVNZ observed that the item did not purport to be a description of the geography or official status of the Old City. Moreover, TVNZ said, it was not an attempt to evaluate the relative strength of the claims.

[37] TVNZ then argued that, when determining complaints that standard G14 had been breached, the Authority was required to take into account the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression contained in s.14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

[38] Turning to its in-house News and Current Affairs Manual referred to by the Authority in reaching its initial decision, TVNZ noted that the Manual required that "Geographical descriptions or labelling must be precise". In this case, TVNZ continued, the caption was part of a visual aid rather than a geographic description or label of East Jerusalem or the Old City.

[39] TVNZ also commented that the item had been sourced from the BBC "which has a well deserved reputation for quality news broadcasting". TVNZ explained that its practice was not to edit material from foreign news agencies, unless broadcasting standards were breached or there was a significant departure from TVNZ’s house-style. Moreover, it observed:

Related to this, from a practical perspective the removal of a caption from a foreign broadcast such as this BBC report, is difficult, time consuming and an onerous and unnecessary task when the caption is accurate in the context of the broadcast.

[40] TVNZ then addressed the Authority’s briefing from MFAT.

[41] From the outset, TVNZ acknowledged East Jerusalem’s official status as an occupied territory. However, it contended, the language in international diplomacy differed from that used by the media. Indeed, TVNZ added, to restrict the media to official language when educating and informing the public through news reporting was an unreasonable limitation on both the freedom of expression and editorial independence.

[42] The Ministry had given the Authority the brochure "The United Nations and the Question of Palestine" and, quoting extracts from the brochure, TVNZ maintained that there was "nothing inherently incorrect about describing Jerusalem as a contested City". Moreover, TVNZ argued, Ms Meyer from MFAT in her comments also acknowledged that Jerusalem, and particularly the Old City, was contested. Ms Meyer had told the Authority that the term "occupied" would be used if the government produced a map of Jerusalem. However, TVNZ contended, such a description would not be useful and informative, and would not assist the public to understand the claims of the Palestinians and the Israelis.

[43] By way of summary, TVNZ referred to the context of the item and argued that the use of the description, "The Contested City", was not inaccurate and it did not lack balance or objectivity. Further:

Freedom of the press is a cornerstone of democracy and a basic safeguard against oppression. The very function of the media is to remain independent of pressure groups and Government influence. In this respect, editorial independence is fundamental and critical to the exercise of s14 NZBOR rights. Editorial independence should only be interfered with if the resulting limitation on freedom of expression is demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society. The onus is on the complainant to show that is the case. In the present case, the proposed interference is not in any way justifiable.

To suggest that the news media should use only official language, or should mention the official status every time the Old City is referred to is an unreasonable restriction on freedom of expression and an unwarranted interference with the principle of editorial independence.

It is submitted that there is no breach of standard G14 and the complaint should not be upheld.

The Wellington Palestine Group’s Submission

[44] Having read TVNZ’s submission, the Group repeated its contention that the broadcast breached standard G14 and said, in addition, that TVNZ had failed to comply with the balance requirement in s.4(1)(d) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[45] The Group agreed that the item attempted to educate the viewer but, it continued, the use of the caption "The Contested City" compounded the breach rather than justifying it. It noted that TVNZ had argued that the reporter’s question "How is it [the Old City] to be shared?" was directly applicable to the caption. The Group responded that the question assumed that the City was to be shared – the Israeli position – while the Palestinians sought a timetable for Israel’s withdrawal.

[46] Further, the reporter then ranked the holiness of the places shown which, the Group claimed, provoked sympathy for the Israelis. These assertions, the Group stated, indicated that the reporter was using the Israeli perspective.

[47] The Group then agreed with TVNZ that the item had to be viewed in the context of the wider dispute. It continued:

We have clearly stated in the past to both TVNZ (6 October 2000) and to the BSA (22 November 2000) that it is not so much the objection to the description used of ‘contested’ (or ‘disputed’ which means the same according to MFAT) that lies at the heart of our objection, but rather the disinclination to use the expression ‘occupied’.

… our objection is rooted in the infrequency of use of the most accurate legally sourced expression ‘occupied’ and the converse frequency of resort to other explanations on TVNZ news programmes, in particular the religious, and its use of other erroneous labels, such as ‘contested’.

[48] The Group also agreed with TVNZ when it said it was not trying to provide a comprehensive history. TVNZ’s responsibility, it argued, was to use the correct description – occupied rather than contested. Accuracy was necessary, it continued, to counter the incorrect information given when, in some broadcasts, Jerusalem was described as part of Israel.

[49] In response to TVNZ’s assertion that the item should not be seen in isolation, the Group said it had asked TVNZ for a copy of all the scripts of news items which had referred to the Middle East between March and September this year. It argued that this would show TVNZ’s disinclination to use the word "occupied". However, TVNZ advised that it intended to charge for the material and, before agreeing to consider the response, the Group wrote:

If the BSA should consider that the outcome of this complaint would turn on this material being available, then we request a deferment of a decision, so that we may make a decision as to whether we are able to pay for it. In the meantime we note that TVNZ has not made any response in its submission to our pointing out that it fails to use the expression ‘occupied’ very often, instead preferring to state that it is unnecessary.

[50] In regard to TVNZ’s reference to the broadcaster’s right to the freedom of expression, the Group referred to the provision in s.4 of the Bill of Rights that other legislation was not overruled by the Act. The Group acknowledged that the Authority had to consider s.14, but:

… it is then obligated to follow the Broadcasting Act whenever the Broadcasting Act’s provisions turn out to be inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act.

[51] Turning to the principle of editorial independence, the Group strongly endorsed it. The principle, it noted, was subject to the Broadcasting Act. The Group also expressed support for TVNZ’s independence from the influence of government, but argued that the use of the term "disputed", rather than "occupied", was "highly partisan", as the former word was that used by the Israeli Prime Minister.

[52] The Group also agreed with TVNZ that a broadcaster should not refrain from broadcasting material which gave a negative impression. However, it added, that did not allow the broadcast of an inaccuracy.

[53] With regard to the TVNZ Manual the Group stated that the portion referred to in the initial decision was the result of its past complaints. It said it was unable to see a difference between a "label" and a "visual aid", and maintained that the descriptions used should be accurate.

[54] Moreover, it wrote, the focus on the religious aspect "effectively constitutes a partisan approach in favour of the Israeli claim". That approach was taken, the Group contended, because a religious concern "has the effect of denying the existence of the superior right of the Palestinians in law".

[55] The Group did not accept TVNZ’s comments about the high quality of BBC sourced material. It quoted an article by Robert Fisk in "The Independent" (UK) which reported that the BBC had banned the use of the word "assassination" when referring to the Israeli targeted attacks on Palestinian leaders.

[56] The Group also noted that, in recent correspondence, TVNZ had challenged the claims made by Fisk. Accordingly, if the determination of the complaint turned on the BBC’s terminology, the Group asked the Authority to defer its determination until the matter was clarified.

[57] The Group stated that it was "astounded" that TVNZ did not acknowledge the short-comings in its foreign news-feeds, noting that this had been an issue in past complaints. While agreeing with TVNZ that it could not employ journalists experienced in Middle East affairs, "this is not an excuse for not getting it right". Moreover, practical problems did not reduce the requirements for accuracy and balance, it wrote.

[58] As for the briefing from MFAT, the Group agreed with TVNZ as to the distinction between and use of diplomatic and journalistic language. Nevertheless, it argued, that was not an excuse for inaccuracy.

[59] Israel, it wrote, was the occupier of the Occupied Territories and it was similar to the situation in 1991 when Iraq "occupied" Kuwait. However, while that word was used with regard to Kuwait in 1991 and UN resolutions cited, it said that TVNZ did not cite the UN resolutions on "Israeli occupation of Palestinian and Lebanese territory".

[60] In response to TVNZ’s argument that the UN brochure justified the use of the word "contested", the Group argued that such a conclusion arose from a misunderstanding of the recent peace processes involving Israel and the PLO. The Group commented on aspects of recent history in the region to contend that "occupied" remained the correct term for East Jerusalem, rather than "contested" or "disputed".

[61] In conclusion, the Group wrote:

The item complained of, even without considering the caption, was fundamentally flawed as an objective news presentation trying to explain a political situation. It confined itself to a detailed religious perspective as the exclusive explanation of the conflict. This would be unacceptable even if there were a balance provided by TVNZ in other items. These other such items, sometimes explaining the legal dimension and more frequently using the simple, and hardly time consuming, word ‘occupied’, we still wait to appear on our screens.

[62] Further, it argued that the Bill of Rights did not override the requirements of standard G14 of the Television Code. The Group said it did not want a reference to the official status of the Old City whenever it was referred to. Rather, it concluded:

TVNZ has a responsibility, founded in statute, that requires it to broadcast a balanced mosaic of material over time that will educate and remind viewers that in law the Palestinians are the aggrieved party. This is all that we ask. It is a request that originates more in a need for balance than an objection to inaccuracy, no matter how the Code’s complaints process is geared more for the former fault. A decision in our favour by the BSA will not mean that TVNZ can no longer call East Jerusalem ‘contested’ in some particular circumstances, just so long that it does not fail to mention that it is ‘occupied’ at the same time.

The Authority’s Determination

[63] In reconsidering this complaint, whether TVNZ breached the standards in using a caption which described Jerusalem as "The Contested City", the Authority is acting on the following orders from the High Court in regard to the Application for Judicial Review brought by TVNZ:

Following a consent memorandum dated 24 August 2001 signed by William Akel, counsel for the applicant [TVNZ], Andrew Scott-Howman, counsel for the first respondent [the Authority] and Brent Stanaway, counsel for the second respondent [the complainant], on 27 August 2001 the Honorable Justice Goddard made the following orders by consent:

1.  An order remitting the matter back to the Broadcasting Standards Authority for its
    further consideration and determination.
2. An order discontinuing the proceeding (with no question as to costs).

[64] In its submission, the Wellington Palestine Group raised two matters which might require further evidence from the parties.

[65] The first involved the relationship of the item complained about to other items about the Middle East. TVNZ wrote:

It is quite unrealistic and artificial to look at a news report such as this in isolation to the continuous and comprehensive overall coverage of the historical and geo-political dispute in the Middle East.

[66] In response, the Group sought a copy of all TVNZ news scripts between 8 March and 11 September 2001. TVNZ advised that that would cost up to $200 plus $1 per page for photocopying. In view of this expense, the Group deferred asking for the material unless the Authority decided that the outcome of the complaint turned on it.

[67] The Authority notes that its function is to investigate and review the broadcaster’s decision, after the broadcaster has considered a formal complaint about a broadcast. In this case, the Authority is reviewing TVNZ’s decision about the news item broadcast on 4 October 2000. It is not reviewing TVNZ’s news and current affairs approach to the Middle East.

[68] At its option, the complainant may decide whether to seek additional material. It is not competent for the Authority to make that decision. In the event, any additional material would widen the issue on referral to the Authority. Accordingly, the Authority’s focus will remain on the specific news item, while acknowledging the geo-politics involved. Indeed, because the Authority was concerned that it understood the broader situation, it sought a briefing from MFAT before its initial determination of the complaint.

[69] The second issue raised by the Group focussed on TVNZ’s contention that material from the BBC had a "well deserved reputation for quality broadcasting". The Group referred to some criticisms of the BBC coverage of the Middle East from Robert Fisk of "The Independent".

[70] The Group provided the Authority with a letter from TVNZ in regard to another complaint which included the BBC response to Fisk. In that response, the BBC argued that Fisk had misinterpreted the BBC’s practice on the use of the word assassination. It had not been banned but was used, and had been used, for the targeted killings of well-known figures.

[71] Again, the Authority does not believe that it is necessary to obtain further submissions on this point. While the source of an item cannot be ignored, the Authority is determining a complaint about the broadcast of an item by TVNZ. It is acceptable for TVNZ to refer to the source of an item, but that does not obviate TVNZ’s responsibility to ensure that the standards are complied with. The source is peripheral to the issue before the Authority when it is required to determine whether the item was accurate, impartial and objective. The Authority acknowledges TVNZ’s desire to avoid editing overseas feeds unnecessarily.

[72] Accordingly, the Authority now proceeds to determine the single complaint about the news item broadcast on One News on 4 October 2000. It appreciates the extremely thorough submissions from both the complainant and the broadcaster.

[73] Having carefully reviewed the correspondence, and after paying particular attention to the submissions prepared following the consent order made in the High Court, the Authority is not unanimous in its decision as to whether the news item broadcast on TV One on 4 October 2000 breached Standard G14.

[74] The majority (Peter Cartwright and Rodney Bryant) disagree with the complainant, in the context of the broadcast of this item, that "The issue is … the accurate description of geography". Rather, as was explained earlier in this decision, the item attempted to set in context peace talks about to begin in Paris as violence continued in the Middle East between the Israelis and the Palestinians. This is borne out by the presenter’s introduction to the item which he said looked "at the job ahead of [the Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Paris] and what triggered such a wave of violence".

[75] The majority believes that to require a broadcaster always or even just generally to use the word "occupied", the language that by reference to the UN resolutions most accurately describes the status of the land, would be an unreasonable limitation on its freedom of expression.

[76] The majority agrees that provided the broadcaster reports an event responsibly, an item which does not use the formal and precise language will not necessarily be in breach of standard G14.

[77] The majority’s determination leaves open the wider question of whether, taken in totality, the broadcaster’s overall coverage of the conflict in East Jerusalem is accurate, objective and impartial. That is not an issue that is squarely before the Authority in the context of this referral.

[78] In conclusion, the majority accepts that TVNZ could have used a more appropriate caption than "The Contested City’ to describe the Old City of Jerusalem. However, given the requirement in the Bill of Rights for freedom of expression, and that that freedom may be subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society, it concludes that the fault was not sufficient to amount to a breach of standard G14.

[79] The minority of the Authority (Judy McGregor) disagrees. First, she does not accept TVNZ’s submission that the caption was not a geographic description or label. In the minority’s opinion, the caption was a label and, as such, it was required by TVNZ’s News and Current Affairs Manual to be "precise". Second, she considers that the term "contested" used by itself as a label is inaccurate. She agrees with the complainant’s suggestion that TVNZ would not have breached the standard if it had used both "contested" and "occupied". Broadcasting standards, the minority points out, require that news items record accurately aspects of material events.

[80] The minority regards the caption used as an important aspect of the item. As the label "The Contested City" is inaccurate, the minority does not accept that the freedom of expression provision justifies a material inaccuracy in this case and, accordingly, it upholds the complaint as a breach of standard G14.

 

For the reasons above, a majority of the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
7 February 2002

Appendix

The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:

  1. Wellington Palestine Group’s Complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd – 6 October 2000
  2. TVNZ’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 27 October 2000
  3. Wellington Palestine Group’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority
    – 22 November 2000
  4. TVNZ’s Response to the Authority – 1 December 2000
  5. Wellington Palestine Group’s Final Comment – 22 December 2000
  6. Papers Associated with Appeal and Judicial Review
  7. TVNZ’s solicitors Submission after the Matter had been Referred Back to the Authority 
    – 11 September 2001
  8. Wellington Palestine Group’s Submission – 5 October 2001